College News & Analysis

Top 10 returning cornerbacks in college football for the 2023 season

New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) reacts after a defensive play against the Kansas State Wildcats during the second half in the 2022 Sugar Bowl at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

  • Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry: Not only does the sophomore have the best nickname in the sport, but he’s also the best returning cornerback.
  • Penn State’s Kalen King: The sophomore’s counterpart, Joey Porter Jr., received all the love in the Nittany Lions’ secondary, but King was Penn State's true top corner this season.
  • Michigan’s Will Johnson: He led all Power Five corners in man-coverage grade as just a true freshman, showing the limitless ceiling the former five-star recruit possesses. 
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

It’s officially time to hit the reset button.

Now that we know who will continue playing on Saturdays next fall, let's take an early look at the top returning players at every position.

Here are the top 10 cornerbacks returning to college football next season. Please note that NFL projection is not taken into account here. 

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1. Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama Crimson Tide

Among those returning to school, McKinstry is the best cornerback, best returner and has the best nickname.

Kool-Aid was a first-team All-American for PFF this past season, and his 18 forced incompletions tied for second among all corners in the country. The sophomore also led all Power Five players with 332 punt return yards. He’s the most valuable returning Power Five corner according to PFF’s wins above average metric.

2. Kalen King, Penn State Nittany Lions 

Joey Porter Jr. received all of the love in Penn State’s secondary and is a projected first-round pick, but King was Penn State's true star this past season.

In single-coverage, the sophomore led all corners in the country with a 93.3 grade and 18.3 passer rating allowed. His 15 forced incompletions in single-coverage were tied for third among FBS corners as well.

3. Will Johnson, Michigan Wolverines

Johnson entered Ann Arbor as a five-star recruit and showed immediately that he was worth the hype.

He’ll remind many of Patrick Surtain II thanks to his size (6-foot-2) and lockdown ability. As a true freshman, Johnson's 91.1 grade in man coverage led all corners in the Power Five. His two interceptions in man were also tied for fifth in that same group. 

4. Benjamin Morrison, Notre Dame Fighting Irish 

Johnson wasn’t the only true freshman who excelled at corner this past season.

Morrison was a ballhawk for the Fighting Irish in 2022, as his six interceptions were tied for the most among Power Five corners while his 29.2 passer rating allowed ranked third among that same group.

5. Cooper DeJean, Iowa Hawkeyes 

DeJean does it all for Iowa’s defense.

The sophomore was the only corner in the country with 85-plus grades both in coverage and as a run-defender. His five interceptions were tied for fourth among Power Five corners while his 15 run-defense stops were tied for the most among all corners in the country.

6. Josh Newton, TCU Horned Frogs 

Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football's best defensive back. However, he wasn’t even the highest-graded corner on his own team.

Newton led all Horned Frogs corners with an 81.9 grade, and he was fourth among Power Five corners this year with a 35.3% completion rate allowed. The Louisiana-Monroe transfer is also the third-most valuable returning Power Five corner, per PFF’s wins above average metric.

7. Javon Bullard, Georgia Bulldogs

The only slot corner on this list, Bullard was an honorable mention All-American for PFF this past season. 

The sophomore’s 79.3 grade ranked third among Power Five slot corners this season. He only surrendered 0.88 yards per coverage snap from the slot, sixth in that same group. Bullard’s 82.6 grade in zone coverage ranked fourth among all Power Five corners as well.

8. Fentrell Cypress II, Florida State Seminoles

After four seasons at Virginia, Cypress is transferring within the ACC to Florida State.

This past year, he ranked fifth among Power Five corners in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.53). In single coverage, he was fourth in the Power Five with only a 4.5% open target rate. 

9. Jason Marshall Jr., Florida Gators

Marshall excels in press coverage. 

The sophomore only surrendered a 35.2 passer rating when targeted in press coverage over the last two seasons, eighth among Power Five corners. For comparison, spiking the ball every play nets a 39.6 passer rating. 


10. Kamari Lassiter, Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia tends to leave their corners on islands, making it very easy to see whether or not they’re up to snuff.

Lassiter’s 190 snaps in single-coverage were sixth among Power Five corners this season. Of the sophomore’s 34 targets in single coverage, he only allowed 13 catches. He’ll be the reigning back-to-back champs’ top outside corner this season with Kelee Ringo off to the NFL.

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